Thousands more specialist school places to be created for SEND children in England - as government aims to end postcode lottery

Thousands more specialist school places will be created for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) as part of a plan to end England's postcode lottery.

A total of 33 local authorities across England have been selected to have special schools built in their areas.

Staff training will also be expanded to ensure SEND children get the help that they need earlier.

New national SEND and alternative provision (AP) standards will set out what support will be provided to families and who will pay.

The Department for Education (DfE) said £30million will also go towards innovative short respite breaks, including play, sports, arts and independent living activities, to benefit both the children and their families.

The policies are part of the DfE's long-awaited improvement plan to provide high-quality, early support for SEND children.

In England, just under 1.5million pupils were identified as having special educational needs last year - a proportion that has been growing since 2016.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed the number of SEND children without an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) had risen by 12%.

Announcing the DfE's improvement plan, Claire Coutinho, minister for children, families and wellbeing, said: "Parents know that their children only get one shot at education and this can have an enormous impact on their child's ability to get on with life.

"Yet for some parents of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, getting their child that superb education that everyone deserves can feel like a full-time job.

"The Improvement Plan that we are publishing today sets out systemic reforms to standards, teacher training and access to specialists as well as thousands of new places at specialist schools so that every child gets the help they need."

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However, the plan has been criticised by the Local Government Association (LGA), which says the measures "do not go far enough".

Chair of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said: "It is good the government has set out new national standards which will clarify the support available, and the focus on early intervention will also ensure needs are met more effectively.

"However, while the measures announced will help to fix some of the problems with the current system, they do not go far enough in addressing the fundamental cost and demand issues that result in councils struggling to meet the needs of children with SEND."

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The LGA, which represents local authorities across England and Wales, also said it believed the government should grant councils additional powers to lead SEND systems effectively.

The DfE has said it will make sure the process for assessing children's needs through EHCPs, which help pupils to access support in school, is digital-first, quicker and simpler wherever possible.